Welcome to FirstWorks

Sunday, December 5, 2021, 4 PM
First Unitarian Church, Providence

Thank you for joining us for a concert program of exquisite, timely music. We’re thrilled to welcome you back to experience live performances by world-class artists. See what we have coming up for 2022.

Today’s concert opens with the premiere of “Woodland Impressions,” a program developed with EmmaLee Holmes-Hicks through FirstWorks’ inaugural commission initiative. Experience the new suite for erhu, violin and marimba by erhu virtuoso Jing Wang, performing with violinist EmmaLee Holmes-Hicks and percussionist Piero Guimaraes.

Jing Wang - Woodland Impressions
a suite for erhu, violin & marimba

I. Mist
II. Morning Bath
III. Lullaby
IV. Stray Birds
V. Blooming

Program notes:
“Woodland Impressions” depicts five portraits of nature, inspired by forest scenery. The mist at daybreak, the morning bath of fish and ducks in the brook, the midday lullaby, the stray birds, and the blooming floral garden. Together these depictions deliver a set of the natural features of a landscape in early summer. Each instrument – marimba, erhu and violin – takes turns to lead the conversation in the middle three movements. In the last movement, a brief improvisational passage is carried on each instrument, interweaving in a rondo style.

Performed by:
Jing Wang, erhu
EmmaLee Holmes-Hicks, violin
Piero Guimaraes, marimba


Selections from Johnny Gandelsman’s This is America

Akshaya Avril Tucker: Pallavi – A Meditation on Care

Christina Courtin: Stroon

Conrad Tao: Stones

Rhiannon Giddens: New To The Session

Performed by:

Johnny Gandelsman, violin


Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No.3 in G major, BWV 1048

III. Allegro assai

Performed by:

Violin 1: Johnny Gandelsman
Violin 2: Jannessa Ya
Violin 3: Aaron Grijalva
Viola 1: Sebastian Ruth
Viola 2: Ashley Frith
Viola 3: Jesse Holstein
Cello 1: Miguel Vasquez
Cello 2: Natasha Astrid Rosario DeChambeau
Cello 3: Kamyron Williams

Special thanks to the musicians of Community MusicWorks (communitymusicworks.org)


As we live through a time of disruption and disconnection, with COVID-19, the recent US election, deep polarization, entrenched systemic racism and police brutality, it is clear that the years 2020 and 2021 will be seared in our collective memories for a long time. In response to this turbulent period in history, I developed “This Is America”, a new commissioning and recording project featuring over twenty new works for solo violin, written by American and US-based artists.

Commissioned by twenty presenters in eleven states and Washington DC, “This is America” celebrates America’s rich cultural tapestry and its myriad perspectives, thoughts and ideas, offering a vivid counterpoint to the idea that this land can be understood through a singular, dominant point of view. Each composition in the anthology reflects on the current state of American society in a personal and intimate way, looking through an unflinching lens at universal topics like separation, loneliness, hope and love.
– Johnny Gandelsman

Akshaya Avril Tucker – Pallavi – A Meditation on Care

“Pallavi (Puh-la-vee), Meditation on Care is about recovery. It takes inspiration from two sources: one is a bhajan (devotional song) about the biggest moment of transformation in our lives. The first line of this song roughly translates from the Hindi to, “One day, Mother [Goddess] Kali,we will go together in light.” “Ek din Kali Maa” has been present, always, for my family as we’ve grieved our own dear ones; and present again in 2018. It is more than a comfort; it is a presence that restores and embraces. If the music in Pallavi feels like a dear friend giving you a hug as you listen, then I will be very happy!

I created a fantasy on this melody, treating it like the theme in Odissi ‘Pallavi’ form. The Pallavi genre within Odissi dance repertoire is the second inspiration behind the piece. I studied the Odissi style of Classical Indian dance for 20 years under Guru Ranjanaa Devi, and learned andperformed about eight compositions of this type. Pallavi’s are named for their Raag, and are abstract pieces that contain no particular narrative. They involve the repetition of one melody over evolving musical and gestural elements. They move from slow and sensuous, to fast and trance-like, even virtuosic. For me, dancing a Pallavi provides a sense of care and well-being.They are pure sweetness; a means of becoming absorbed by the raag; and feeling proud and comfortable in my own skin as a woman. This is what I’ve tried to represent musically. This Pallavi extolls the strength of women, especially my mom. The performer is welcome to direct this musical spirit of restoration to whoever needs it in their own life.

I had an image of balancing, physically, emotionally – even on different strings of the instrument! – that worked its way into the violin writing. There are certain other particularities of learning Odissi dance that came into the music as well. I’ve used some rhythmic manipulations that dress up the melody in a new suit of clothes each time it appears, as you find frequently in Odissi music. The violin also occasionally imitates the timbre of the buzzing cassette tapes we practice dance to. These are some not particularly high-tech recordings made in India during the 1980s, by friends of my dance Guru — the instruments included a voice, pakhawaj (two-headed drum), drone, and flute or sitar. The static was always noticeable during the opening alap (slow improvisation on the raag), and, true to form, it appears at the opening of this piece too.

I would like to thank Gabriela Lena Frank and Johnny Gandelsman for their mentorship,excellent advice and musical presence. This music is made more full by their generosity.” – Akshaya Avril Tucker

“Pallavi – A Meditation on Care” was generously commissioned by the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music (Booneville, CA)

Christina Courtin – Stroon

When I was given the task to write Stroon, the reflection period was a heavy one. I was on a journey to find a path that would somehow lead me to another. Needless to say, I hit many dead ends. For me the piece has landed in two worlds of mine, the lyrical and the searching. The singing aspect is throughout, but especially at the beginning and, of course, with the help of the dancers. The flowing sixteenth notes are just a vehicle for the endless searching and questioning of what anything/everything means, not unlike so many other pieces of music out there today.

The last year and a half have been absolutely devastating for so many reasons, and for me personally it made me very quiet. I did not write, I did not sing, I just read the news with an anxious mind. I was so grateful for the opportunity from The Vail Dance Festival because it forced me to get into music again, to try and reconnect with myself, and to try and put music to the madness that is still our reality. – Christina Courtin

“Stroon” was generously commissioned by the 2021 Vail Fance Festival, Damian Woetzel – Artistic Director (Vail, CO)

Conrad Tao – Stones

In 2020, on most days, I took a walk north along the Hudson River. About two-thirds of the way up is a bank of mysterious stones. Stones stacked on top of each other, forming elegant, gravity-defying piles. I’ll never forget the first time I encountered these stones, on my first walk up the river. The feeling of another person, the feeling of another, was very evident. When I first came across these stones, I wasn’t sure if this was the effort of many people, or just one, but regardless — the feeling of somebody’s hands, someone desiring to express, someone desiring to leave a trace of themselves — that was so palpable. So palpable, and so moving, especially at that time, when it was difficult to connect with people. And as I kept taking these walks, throughout the summer and fall, I observed change within the stones. Sometimes, they would nearly disappear, only a few shallow piles left that you could see if you looked hard enough. Sometimes they would evolve and change.

I later learned that these stones were the work of a local self-taught artist named Uliks Gryka. I was excited to learn this information, but there was a part of me that didn’t necessarily care that much about who it was on the other side of these sculptures, because, at least, at the time I discovered the stones, they were unmistakable but fairly anonymous. Gryka wasn’t leaving a signature — I believe he has in the past, but when I encountered the work, he wasn’t. There was something in that too. There was something about the simplicity and the confident humility of leaving the work there, to be seen, to be discovered, to be experienced; perhaps the trace was enough, and credit was secondary.

This piece was written for Johnny Gandelsman, in December of 2020, and Johnny specifically asked for a piece that was reflecting on the, uh, [cue frantic hand-waving] recent time period, and this piece is a tribute to those Sisyphus Stones, to Uliks Gryka’s Sisyphus Stones. It is a love letter to them, a note of appreciation for what they provided for me during this most tumultuous time. – Conrad Tao

“Stones” was generously commissioned by Bay Chamber (Rockport, ME)

Rhiannon Giddens – New To The Session

I began my fiddling journey as an apprentice to a dance musician, and pretty late in life, as violinists go – so my repertoire and style is rhythmic and melodically simple, and always with a dancer in mind. They say write what you know – so when this opportunity came to create a piece for Johnny Gandelsman, I was thrilled to see what came out of my strings and off my bow. It’s called New to the Session because as a beginner fiddler I would sit in on Irish sessions sometimes and feel like I was in a whirlwind – no more than twice through each tune and it seemed like everybody knew everything but me; I wanted to capture a bit of that feel with the journey through the melodies. – Rhiannon Giddens

“New To The Session” was generously commissioned by the 2021 Vail Dance Festival, Damian Woetzel – Artistic Director (Vail, CO)

New England Foundation for the Arts, National Endowment for the ArtsThe premiere of “Woodland Impressions” is funded in part by the New England States Touring program of the New England Foundation for the Arts, made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts Regional Touring Program and the six New England state arts agencies.

FirstWorks is supported by the New England Foundation for the Arts through the New England Arts Resilience Fund, part of the United States Regional Arts Resilience Fund, an initiative of the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with major funding from the federal CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Health & Safety Info
All audience members must wear a mask within the venue and vaccination against COVID-19 is recommended for all eligible patrons.
To ensure social distancing, venue seating will be limited to no more than 50% capacity.
View First Unitarian Church health & safety guidelines